The sea of orange. The rally rags. The fake beards. The panda hats. The Lincecum wigs. The mohawks. The sign reading, “GET YOUR FREAK ON.” Everything about last night was just perfect.
I sat in the center field bleachers and soaked in Tim Lincecum’s gem. The Braves never stood a chance. I was coming off a great day — I had done two radio interviews in Portland, one in Johnson City, Tenn., and one in Nashville just before game time, I had had lunch with some former Chronicle colleagues, I sold one book and signed another, and I had met with a Giants source I knew who told me great stories about the unheralded but incredible band of Giants middle relievers — Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo.
And then: Game time!
I knew when Lincecum struck out five straight Braves – the three through seven hitters in innings one and two – the Giants were in good shape, and I didn’t want the string of Ks to end. The word had been that the Braves’ defense and hitting were suspect, and they proved it last night – only two over .270 and two over .260. (For all their flaws, the Giants fielded three guys over .290, and three more over .260, and the other two are Juan Uribe and Pat Burrell, who I’m always happy to see step up to the plate.)
Still, the moment that worried me more than any other was seeing crafty Bobby Cox bring in lefthander Jonny Venters to face Pablo Sandoval with runners on the corners and one out in the sixth. This was the Giants’ best chance to score — but I hate to see Pablo batting from the right side, with a runner on first. Everyone in the park knew he’d swing at the first pitch, and yup, he did, right into one of his patented double plays.
I love Pablo, but I think he should give up on the switch hitting, like JT Snow did, and go lefty only. And I’d like to see Bruce Bochy outfit him for electric shocks every time he swings at a first pitch in a double play situation. Until either of those things happen, I think he should have been pulled for Mike Fontenot right then and there.
But the best moment was the ninth inning. Brian Wilson was warmed up, I thought for sure he’d come in, as Lincecum had thrown 105 pitches. Wilson was at the top of the dugout steps, but then went back in, out came Timmy, and the crowd went crazy. The Braves had the top of the order up — no matter. One, two, three, and the Giants had a one game lead.
No one wanted to leave. We were all high-fiving, cheering, drinking it all in. It felt so great.
I love the way the Giants have brought the whole city together. I wish this feeling could last forever.
I should have done this awhile ago, but hey – I’ll borrow this item from my friend Jason Turbow over at The Baseball Codes: If you’re in San Francisco tonight, don’t have tickets to the Giants game, and want to check out a fabulous panel of sportswriters, stop by the Hemlock Tavern for Litquake’s It’s All Over but the Crying: A Night of Authors on Sports.
I’ll be reading along with ESPN’s Howard Bryant (The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron), Dan Epstein (Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s), Alan Black and David Henry Sterry (The Glorious World Cup) and old pal Jason Turbow (The Baseball Codes), along with iconic A’s photographer Michael Zagaris.
Turbow writes on his blog: Having listened to him opine on several occasions, I can honestly say that giving Zagaris the mic for an hour would itself be worth the price of admission.
The event will be at 1131 Polk St. in San Francisco at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, and can be purchased here.
I am especially looking forward to hearing Dan Epstein talking about Big Hair, a topic that I can really relate to.
I can’t wait for the post-season to start!
I am on my way right now to KQED, for a return trip to Forum with Michael Krasny. You can listen here, or on 88.5 FM in the Bay Area.
And here’s a recent radio interview I had with Mychael Urban on his pregame show on KNBR while the Giants were still fighting for a playoff start: Dan Fost interview with Mychael Urban 9_18_2010
Part of the torture of this strange, wonderful, winning season is that the Giants hat that I have worn for years — a black, wool, fitted model with a 2002 World Series logo on the side — has gone missing.
I don’t know where the hat could be, and maybe I should let it go – after all, the Giants are on a pretty good run, and superstition dictates not messing with it. (After all, Aubrey Huff has taken to wearing a thong around the clubhouse, and the team is 6-1 since he put it on.)
Maybe it’s a sign that I’ll be getting a new hat with a 2010 World Series championship logo stitched on the side. I will gladly pay for it!
But if I find that other hat, or a reasonable facsimile, I will be very happy indeed, and I’ll start wearing it immediately.
Until then, I’ve taken out a white wool fitted Giants cap that I bought at the last game at Candlestick in 1992, the game that we all thought was the Giants’ last in the Bay Area before they moved to St. Petersburg. The hat was $5 — SF hats would become almost worthless after that, I suppose the reasoning went. But it turned out to be the start of a great era for the Giants.
The Giants and A’s have a long history – one that predates their moves to the Bay Area. The New York Giants and Philadelphia A’s met several times in the first decade of the World Series, with the Giants taking the 1905 classic behind Christy Mathewson’s amazing three shutouts. Alas, the A’s roared back to beat the Giants in the Series in 1911 and 1913 (and the Giants fell to the Red Sox in 1912 as well).
Before they ever even met in a World Series, Giant manager John McGraw referred to Connie Mack’s A’s as a bunch of “white elephants,” part of McGraw’s contempt for the American League that had cast him out. Mack showed McGraw, however, adopting the elephant as the team mascot – the forerunner of Oakland’s friendly fuzzy pachyderm Stomper.
Of course, the A’s moved to Kansas City in 1955, the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, and the A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, bringing the rivalry to California. The move worked for the A’s, who roared to three straight Series wins in 1972-1974, and with one more coming at the expense of the Giants in the earthquake-marred 1989 Bay Bridge World Series.
The two teams have been fairly competitive in the 20th century, with both of them seemingly in sync through playoff runs and rebuilding years. They appear fairly evenly matched now; the A’s swept the Giants in Oakland in interleague play in May, and the Giants returned the favor, sweeping the A’s in San Francisco in June.
And now – did I bury the lead? – the rivalry takes on a new dimension, when I bring my “Giants Past and Present” book tour into A’s territory, and read and tell stories at Oakland’s Laurel Bookstore, 4100 MacArthur Blvd., at 7 pm Thursday, June 24.
I hope to see you there!
Does baseball still give its players good nicknames? From my chapter on Nicknames in “Giants Past and Present”:
Baseball players used to need nicknames like they needed gloves and bats. Getting a nickname was almost a rite of passage.
From the first Gothams team—featuring Dasher Troy, Buck Ewing, Tip O’Neill, and Smiling Mickey Welch—the Giants have featured some of baseball’s most evocative nicknames.
Fortunately, the Giants have kept the tradition alive, all the way through today, with stars like The Freak and The Panda. I had some fun discussing the tradition in this video, now on my YouTube channel:
Today is a big baseball day for me. At noon, my son Harry’s Cubs play for the Mill Valley City Championship. From 3:30 to 6 pm, I’ll be signing books at the Borders by AT&T Park. And then at 6:05, I’ll hustle across the street for the Giants-A’s game tonight.
It was great to see the Giants beat the A’s last night. Tim Lincecum appears to have gotten his groove back, and the misery of the A’s three game sweep of the Giants in Oakland last month is gone.
Borders Mission Bay store, at 200 King Street, San Francisco, has always seemed to me the ideal place to sell baseball books. Hundreds of fans stream by on their way to the ballgame. Stop in and say hello this afternoon!
One of my favorite Giants blogs, El Lefty Malo, has a Q&A with me in which we discuss Horace Stoneham, Darryl Spencer, Barry Bonds, and more. It’s a lot of fun, check it out!
Last week, I received something precious in my e-mail: A digital recording of the half-hour I had spent on the radio with Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo. You can listen to it here (look for the link to Mad Dog on that page), and I figure with the Giants ready to take on the Mets in New York – the city of the Giants’ birth and their greatest successes, and home base of one of their most avid fans – it would be appropriate to recount in greater detail that marvelous experience.
I have had some great radio experiences since my book was published, but none quite like the half hour I spent with Russo on “Mad Dog Radio” in New York in April. True to his nickname, Russo is a rabid Giants fan, with a deep knowledge that he can summon at a rapid rate.
Russo told me he became a Giants fan when he was eight years old. His father, a jeweler, took him to see the Giants play the Phillies in Philadelphia – this would have been around 1970 – and they went to the Giants’ hotel. “I got all of their autographs, except Willie Mays,” he told me. “Mays wouldn’t sign.”
Of such encounters, fandom begins, even for a kid on Long Island – even for someone who rose to become a kingpin of New York sports talk radio. Kudos to Russo for staying true to his team, in the face of all those Yankees and Mets fans! His Giants cred was sealed after the 2003 season, when he was still on WFAN on the “Mike and the Mad Dog” show; he went on a beautiful rant after that never-shoulda-happened loss to the Marlins, culminating in, “Just one lousy goddamn time!”
We had a spirited conversation, going through Giants history from John McGraw, through Bill Terry, Mel Ott and Leo Durocher, and through the 1960s, the Arctic years of the 1970s and ‘80s, and the return to glory with Will Clark and then Barry Bonds. We picked the 1962 Giants as the best team ever in San Francisco, although we also liked 1993 and 2002. He blamed Horace Stoneham for the failures in San Francisco; I agreed, but spread it a little wider.
We capped it off with a fantastic exercise, where Russo asked me to name my top 10 Giants of all time. With his help, our list: Mays, Christy Mathewson, Bonds, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Buck Ewing, Ott, Carl Hubbell, Orlando Cepeda (questionable only for the duration of his Giants’ tenure) and Terry. We think Tim Lincecum is heading there, but hasn’t played long enough to earn the spot.
We agreed that Willie Mays was the best Giant of all time. I pick him as best player of all time; Russo says that’s Babe Ruth, because he could pitch as well; and that Joe DiMaggio was a better hitter.
Russo was also a generous host, and allowed my wife and son into the small Sirius studio; that’s my son, Harry, in the photo with me and the Mad Dog. (Footnote to a near close-encounter: As we signed in at the Sirius studios on the 36th floor of the McGraw Hill building in midtown Manhattan, I could see that a few minutes earlier, author Kitty Kelley – touting her new book on Oprah Winfrey – had signed in on the same ledger.)
I survived. I wore a Giants cap and shirt to Los Angeles and lived to tell about it.
I was a panelist on Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and can’t say enough good things about the great time I had in enemy territory. My panel was titled “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and featured Michael D’Antonio, author of “Forever Blue,” about Walter O’Malley and the Dodgers’ move out of Brooklyn, and Mark Frost, author of “Game Six,” about the pivotal game of the 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Novelist Bruce Bauman, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic baseball fan, moderated.
I was clearly the novelty act. Bauman was surprised a Giant book was picked for the festival, but there are Giant fans in LA. And I think all five of them came to the panel. We have to stick together. I acknowledged being surprised myself that I was included, but noted my gratitude that festival staff was wearing orange and black t-shirts to make me feel comfortable. (That may not be the reason for the color choice, but I’m sticking with my story.)
The Times also did that one better: They sent a guy named Sandoval to write a post about the panel, and he did a great job capturing the laughter in the room. (Writer Joshua is no relation to Giant Pablo, but no matter to me!)
We had a lot of fun telling stories and talking baseball. D’Antonio told how he spent a year combing through O’Malley’s personal documents – 30,000 of them – that had been stored in musty boxes, and revealed an incredible, never-before-told story that completely upended the modern myth of the Dodgers’ departure from Brooklyn. O’Malley was not the diabolical villain who engineered Brooklyn’s misery, but instead worked tirelessly to build a new ballpark in the borough, only to be thwarted at every turn by Robert Moses, the unelected autocrat who ruled New York City politics for decades.
Frost also offered up great untold stories, including about the alcoholic, inept owner of the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey, and the boozing, drug-addled, nearly forgotten hero of the sixth game, Bernie Carbo. And he told how that Series – featuring a dozen Hall of Famers – marked the end of an era, as six weeks later, free agency began and baseball changed forever. It also remains the single most watched baseball game of all time, with an audience of 76 million people – the “high water mark” for the pastime, Frost said.
We had a lively discussion of steroids and cheating, and I reiterated my belief that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame when his time comes. When Bauman offered one last chance to pitch our books to the audience, the best I could come with was, “I think Dodger fans will love the stories of Giant heartbreak and frustration that populate my book.”
The festival itself is a marvelous celebration of the written word. I attended two other panels that inspired and encouraged, both featuring my friend, David Ulin, the book editor of the Los Angeles Times, as moderator. The first – featuring Nicholas Carr, David Shields, and Ander Monson – addressed how reading and writing will survive in an age of increasing fragmentation. Some conclusions were inspiring (the written word is constantly evolving, and there is more writing and reading now than ever) and some depressing (people are increasingly incapable of reading at any length). But by the afternoon, when Ulin engaged Dave Eggers in conversation, optimism ruled the day. Eggers was funny, witty, upbeat and inspiring on so many levels: as a writer, as a publishing business visionary, and as a pied piper of the written word, whose “826” centers in San Francisco and elsewhere teach so many young people the joy of writing.
I think it’s rather a sad statement that Eggers is such a publishing visionary, because the simplicity of his vision reveals how broken the industry is. His publishing house, McSweeney’s, looks merely to recoup its costs and make a little bit of money for its writers, and get great stories out to the public in the way that writers like to tell them. He is satisfied with little or no profits and an 8-person operation. He looks at publishing and sees that more people bought books last year than ever before. The sad part to me is that book publishers – like the newspaper publishers I know all too well – want to run a high volume, high profit business, and the disappearance of those big profits is what has the industry wringing its hands and declaring doom.
As if that wasn’t enough, the weekend was full of many other personal highlights:
- A visit to friends at the Los Angeles Times, a magnificent Art Deco building that stands as a monument to great journalism, but which sadly now has vast empty sections as the paper struggles in the new economy.
- My first game at the Big A – Anaheim Stadium – where the Angels beat the Yankees Friday night. (Yes, I wore pinstripes.)
- Two outstanding meals at some of Los Angeles’ legendary Jewish delis: pastrami at Junior’s in Westwood on Saturday night, and matzo brei at Nate n Al in Beverly Hills Sunday morning. (Thank you, David Sax, author of “Save the Deli,” for the inspiration.)
- Post-panel surprise encounters with two friends from my childhood in New Jersey. One of them came to my panel with a friend – the friend was there to see her friend, Mark Frost! The other, Carol Fitzgerald, was my babysitter; her mother, Sylvia Cicetti, had been my third grade teacher. Carol has run the site the Book Reporter for years now, and knows more about the publishing industry and the Internet than anybody I’ve ever met.